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N. Korea halts media propaganda for heir apparent: Seoul official

All Headlines 15:50 October 08, 2009

By Kim Hyun

SEOUL, Oct. 8 (Yonhap) -- North Korea recently halted media publicity over a future father-to-son power transfer in the country while increasing reports on current leader Kim Jong-il, a senior Seoul official said Thursday.

Beginning late last year, state media stepped up propaganda efforts to justify the expected transfer of power from Kim to one of his sons, but such publicity came to a halt in mid- July this year, Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho said at a forum.

Kim, 67, who reportedly suffered a stroke in August last year, is believed to have named his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor and to be now grooming him for an official debut as the next leader.

"North Korean media continued to broadcast reports that appeared to indicate the legitimacy of a hereditary succession since the end of 2008, but such reports were put on hold after July 15, 2009," Hong said at a closed-door civic forum on North Korea policy. A transcript of his remarks was released by the ministry.

North Korean media often employed phrases like "bloodline of Mount Paektu," Kim Jong-il's supposed birthplace, or "inheritance" when lauding the country's leadership, something analysts here saw as a reference to the planned succession. The use of such terms also peaked around the time the senior Kim was being trained as heir, they say.

Kim Jong-un, believed to be born in 1984 to the leader's third wife Ko Yong-hui, is said to most resemble his father in appearance and temperament among the three sons. His older brother, Jong-chol, is 28, and half-brother, Jong-nam, is 38.

While references to the succession have subsided, the vice minister said, North Korea appeared to be intensifying social control to maintain national unity around the senior Kim. Media reports of Kim's public activities totaled 110 as of Oct. 1, compared to 74 reported during the same period last year, the vice minister noted.

Also, a statement by Kim regarding the building of a "prosperous" nation by 2012 was reported five times over the span of five days from Aug. 24 to 28, he noted.

Such intense publicity on Kim "shows he is in firm control" and "puts emphasis on traditional ideology to protect the regime," he said.

The current leader was internally designated as successor at age 32 in 1974 during a Workers' Party meeting and publicly declared as the heir to his father during a party convention in 1980. His father and the country's founder, Kim Il-sung, died of a heart attack in 1994.

Despite the drop in media references, watchers say the succession process is picking up pace internally. A Taiwanese photographer recently posted a photo on the Internet taken in the northern North Korean town of Wonsan last month, showing a poster that carried the heir's name in red alongside his father's name.

Cheong Seong-chang, an expert with the non-governmental Sejong Institute south of Seoul, said the North is now directing the succession process in a more subtle way, in contrast to its earlier nuclear and missile tests that were believed to have been aimed at supporting the power transition.

"In the early process of building the succession system, North Korea needed tension with the outside world to tighten internal unity and pursued a military-oriented ultra-hardline foreign policy that completely ignored the positions of other countries," Cheong said. "The Kim Jong-un succession system has now entered a stable orbit."

Meanwhile, Hong said North Korea's recent policy shift toward South Korea began around the time when Kim Jong-il met with Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of South Korea's Hyundai Group, a major investor to the North, in August.

From that month, North Korean media stopped using such derogatory terms as "traitor" and "puppet" for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, using instead simply "president" or "chief executive."

"Since late August, there has been a steep decrease in criticisms against our government," the vice minister said.

hkim@yna.co.kr
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